Sunday, March 31, 2013

Form, rhythm, texture: architect, John Van Bergen’s Prairie Style

Robert N. Erskine Residence, 1913 – 
714 Columbian, Oak Park, Illinois

Looking northeast a three-quarter view of the Erskine house and showing the Griess House in the background. The addition on the back of the Erskine house is not original.
Mrs. L. Griess  Residence, 1914 
– 716 Columbian, Oak Park, Illinois
Photographs by Versluis. 2013

Architect John Van Bergen (1885–1969) had the privilege of working for both Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Burley Griffin in the early part of the twentieth century. The Wright and Griffin influences seem to show in these two residences in Oak Park.

Viewed in tandem, the Erskine house and its next-door neighbor, the Griess house were built as elegant yet affordable middle-class residences in the Prairie Style idiom. In the context of the neighborhood these buildings are very striking but certainly not pretentious. Due to their coherent, precise, and angular design these houses seem to be a practical amalgam of influences from Frank Lloyd Wright (hip roof, stucco and three-dimensional cubic masses) and Walter Burley Griffin (perfection of form).

The street façade reveals a horizontal band of second floor windows, which are stacked as counterparts over the row of first floor windows. This unifying effect is enhanced by the vertical and horizontal ornamental strips, creating a geometric grid that implies and reinforces the stability of the structure. Likewise, the rectilinear strips simulating corner piers emphasize a classic symmetry, which leads the eye up the overhanging eves. The primary structure contrasts nicely with the extension of the horizontal entry porch/veranda on the south side.

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